Islamic philosophy introduced by Suhrawardi

Illuminationism (Persian حكمت اشراق hekmat-e eshrāq, Arabic: حكمة الإشراق ḥikmat al-ishrāq, both meaning "Wisdom of the Rising Light"), also known as Ishrāqiyyun or simply Ishrāqi (Persian اشراق, Arabic: الإشراق, lit. "Rising", as in "Shining of the Rising Sun") is a philosophical and mystical school of thought introduced by Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi (honorific: Shaikh al-ʿIshraq or Shaikh-i-Ishraq, both meaning "Master of Illumination") in the twelfth century, established with his Kitab Hikmat al-Ishraq (lit: "Book of the Wisdom of Illumination"), a fundamental text finished in 1186. Written with influence from Avicennism, Peripateticism, and Neoplatonism, the philosophy is nevertheless distinct as a novel and holistic addition to the history of Islamic philosophy.


Ilkhanate-Mongols besieging Baghdad under the command of Hulagu Khan, c. 1430.

While the Ilkhanate-Mongol Siege of Baghdad and the destruction of the House of Wisdom (Arabic: بيت الحكمة, romanized: Bayt al-Ḥikmah) effectively ended the Islamic Golden Age in 1258, it also paved the way for novel philosophical invention.[1] Such an example is the work of philosopher Abu'l-Barakāt al-Baghdādī, specifically his Kitāb al-Muʿtabar ("The Book of What Has Been Established by Personal Reflection"); the book's challenges to the Aristotelian norm in Islamic philosophy along with al-Baghdādī's emphasis on “evident self-reflection” and his revival of the Platonic use of light as a metaphor for phenomena like inspiration all influenced the philosophy of Suhrawardi.[2] The philosopher and logician Zayn al-Din Omar Savaji further inspired Suhrawardi with his foundational works on mathematics and his creativity in reconstructing the Organon; Savaji's two-part logic based on "expository propositions" (al-aqwāl al-šāreḥa) and "proof theory" (ḥojaj) served as the precursory model for Suhrawardi's own "Rules of Thought" (al-Żawābeṭ al-fekr).[3] Among the three Islamic philosophers mentioned in Suhrawardi's work, al-Baghdādī and Savaji are two of them.

Upon finishing his Kitab Hikmat al-Ishraq (lit: "Book of the Wisdom of Illumination"), the Persian[4][5][6][7] philosopher Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi founded Illuminationism in 1186. The Persian and Islamic school draws on ancient Iranian philosophical disciplines,[8][9] Avicennism (Ibn Sina’s early Islamic philosophy), Neoplatonic thought (modified by Ibn Sina), and the original ideas of Suhrawardi.

Key concepts

In his Philosophy of Illumination, Suhrawardi argued that light operates at all levels and hierarchies of reality (PI, 97.7–98.11). Light produces immaterial and substantial lights, including immaterial intellects (angels), human and animal souls, and even 'dusky substances', such as bodies.[10]

Suhrawardi's metaphysics is based on two principles. The first is a form of the principle of sufficient reason. The second principle is Aristotle's principle that an actual infinity is impossible.[11]


The essential meaning of ishrāq (Persian اشراق, Arabic: الإشراق) is "rising", specifically referring to the sunrise, though "illumination" is the more common translation. It has used both Arabic and Persian philosophical texts as means to signify the relation between the “apprehending subject” (al-mawżuʿ al-modrek) and the “apprehensible object” (al-modrak); beyond philosophical discourse, it is a term used in common discussion. Suhrawardi utilized the ordinariness of the word in order to encompass the all that is mystical along with an array of different kinds of knowledge, including elhām, meaning personal inspiration.[12]


None of Suhrawardi's works was translated into Latin, so he remained unknown in the Latin West, although his work continued to be studied in the Islamic East.[13] According to Hosein Nasr, Suhrawardi was unknown to the west until he was translated to western languages by contemporary thinkers such as Henry Corbin, and he remains largely unknown even in countries within the Islamic world.[14]

Suhrawardi tried to present a new perspective on questions like those of existence. He not only caused peripatetic philosophers to confront such new questions, but also gave new life to the body of philosophy after Avicenna.[15] According to John Walbridge, Suhrawardi's critiques of Peripatetic philosophy could be counted as an important turning point for his successors. Although Suhravardi was first a pioneer of Peripatetic philosophy, he later became a Platonist following a mystical experience. He is also counted as one who revived the ancient wisdom in Persia by his philosophy of illumination. His followers, such as Shahrzouri and Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi tried to continue the way of their teacher. Suhrewardi makes a distinction between two approaches in the philosophy of illumination: one approach is discursive and another is intuitive.[16]

Illuminationist thinkers in the School of Isfahan played a significant role in revitalizing academic life in the[17] Safavid Empire under Shah Abbas I. (1588-1629)[18] Avicennan thought continued to inform philosophy during the reign of the Safavid Empire.[19] Illuminationism was taught in Safavid Madrasas (Place of Study) established by pious shahs.[20]

Mulla Sadra

Mulla Sadra (Ṣadr ad-Dīn Muḥammad Shīrāzī) was a 17th-century Iranian philosopher who was considered a master[21] of illuminationism. He wrote a book titled al-Asfar meaning "The Yellow"[22] or "The Light." The word Asfar also denotes a journey of the soul back to Allah. He developed his book into an entire School of Thought, he did not refer to al-Asfar as a philosophy but as "wisdom." Sadra taught how one could be illuminated or given wisdom until becoming a sage.[23] Al-Asfar was one piece of illuminationism which is still an active part of Islamic philosophy today. Al-Asfar was representative of Mulla Sadra's entire philosophical worldview.[24] Like many important Arabian works it is difficult for the western world to understand because it has not been translated into English. Mulla Sadra eventually became the most significant teacher at the religious school known as Madrasa-yi[25](Royal School.) His philosophies are still taught throughout the Islamic East and South Asia.[26]

Al-Asfar is Mulla Sadra's book explaining his view of illuminationism. He views problems starting with a Peripatetic sketch.[27] This Aristotelian style of teaching is reminiscent of Islamic Golden Age Philosopher Avicenna. Mulla Sadra often refers to the Qur'an when dealing with philosophical problems. He even quotes Qur'anic verses while explaining philosophy. He wrote exegeses of the Qur'an such as his explanation of Al-Kursi.

Asfar means journey. In al-Asfar you are gaining on a journey to gain wisdom. Mulla Sadra used philosophy as a set spiritual exercises to become more wise. Eventually this as you go through life you continue to gain more knowledge until you become a sage, hence godlike.[28]

In Mulla Sadra's book The Transcendent Philosophy of the Four Journeys of the Intellect he describes the four journeys of

  1. A journey from creation to the Truth or Creator
  2. A journey from the Truth to the Truth
  3. A journey that stands in relation to the first journey because it is from the Truth to creation with the Truth
  4. A journey that stands in relation to the second journey because it is from the Truth to the creation.[29]

See also


  1. ^ "ILLUMINATIONISM – Encyclopaedia Iranica". Retrieved 2020-04-10.
  2. ^ Langermann, Y. Tzvi (1998), "al-Baghdadi, Abu 'l-Barakat (fl. c.1200-50)", Islamic Philosophy, Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, archived from the original on 28 February 2008, retrieved 2008-02-03
  3. ^ HOSSEIN ZIAI, "EBN SAHLĀN SĀVAJĪ, Qāżī ZAYN-AL-DĪN ʿOMAR " in Encyclopaedia Iranica [1]
  4. ^ John Walbridge, “The leaven of the ancients: Suhrawardī and the heritage of the Greeks”, State University of New York Press, 1999. Excerpt: “Suhrawardi, a 12th-century Persian philosopher, was a key figure in the transition of Islamic thought from the neo-Aristotelianism of Avicenna to the mystically oriented philosophy of later centuries.”
  5. ^ Seyyed Hossein Nasr, “The need for a sacred science”, SUNY Press, 1993. Pg 158: “Persian philosopher Suhrawardi refers in fact to this land as na-kuja abad, which in Persian means literally utopia.”
  6. ^ Matthew Kapstein, University of Chicago Press, 2004, "The presence of light: divine radiance and religious experience", University of Chicago Press, 2004. pg 285:"..the light of lights in the system of the Persian philosopher Suhrawardi"
  7. ^ Hossein Ziai. Illuminationsim or Illuminationist philosophy, first introduced in the 12th century as a complete, reconstructed system distinct both from the Peripatetic philosophy of Avicenna and from theological philosophy. in: Encyclopaedia Iranica. Volumes XII & XIII. 2004.
  8. ^ Henry Corbin. The Voyage and the Messenger. Iran and Philosophy. Containing previous unpublished articles and lectures from 1948 to 1976. North Atlantic Books. Berkeley, California. 1998. ISBN 1-55643-269-0.
  9. ^ Henry Corbin. The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism. Omega Publications, New York. 1994. ISBN 0-930872-48-7.
  10. ^ Philosophy of Illumination 77.1–78.9
  11. ^ Philosophy of Illumination 87.1–89.8
  12. ^ "ILLUMINATIONISM – Encyclopaedia Iranica". Retrieved Nov 2, 2020.
  13. ^ Marcotte, Roxanne, "Suhrawardi", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).
  14. ^ Hosein Nasr, 1997 & three muslim sages, p. 55 harvnb error: no target: CITEREFHosein_Nasr1997three_muslim_sages (help)
  15. ^ Nasr, 2006 & Islamic philosophy from its origin to the present, p. 86 harvnb error: no target: CITEREFNasr2006Islamic_philosophy_from_its_origin_to_the_present (help)
  16. ^ John Walbridge (2004). "Suhrawardī and Illuminationism". In Adamson, Peter; Taylor, Richard C. (eds.). The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy. Cambridge University Press. pp. 201–223. ISBN 9780511999864.
  17. ^ "Safavid- Mughal Cultural Interrelations as reflected in Matenadaran's 'Bayaz' Manuscript Illumination | Association for Iranian Studies (AIS) | انجمن ایران‌ پژوهی". Retrieved 2020-04-10.
  18. ^ "Friends of the SEP Society - Preview of Mulla Sadra PDF". Retrieved 2020-04-10.
  19. ^ "Friends of the SEP Society - Preview of Mulla Sadra PDF". Retrieved 2020-04-10.
  20. ^ Moazzen, Maryam (2011). Shi'ite Higher Learning and the Role of the Madrasa-yi Sulṭānī in Late Safavid Iran (Thesis). hdl:1807/29816.
  21. ^ Aminrazavi, Mehdi Amin Razavi (2014-03-18). Suhrawardi and the School of Illumination. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-136-79281-6.
  22. ^ Fierro, Maribel (1993). "Al-Aṣfar". Studia Islamica (77): 169–181. doi:10.2307/1595794. JSTOR 1595794.
  23. ^ Rizvi, Sajjad (2019), "Mulla Sadra", in Zalta, Edward N. (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2019 ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, retrieved 2020-04-10
  24. ^ "Full text of "Mulla Sadra's Transcendent Philosophy"". Retrieved 2020-04-09.
  25. ^ "Friends of the SEP Society - Preview of Mulla Sadra PDF". Retrieved 2020-04-10.
  26. ^ "Friends of the SEP Society - Preview of Mulla Sadra PDF". Retrieved 2020-04-10.
  27. ^ SIPR. "Methodology".
  28. ^ Rizvi, Sajjad (2019), "Mulla Sadra", in Zalta, Edward N. (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2019 ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, retrieved 2020-04-09
  29. ^ "Full text of "Mulla Sadra's Transcendent Philosophy"". Retrieved 2020-04-09.

Further reading

  • Suhrawardi and the School of Illumination by Mehdi Amin Razavi
  • Islamic Intellectual Tradition in Persia by Seyyed Hossein Nasr

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